HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

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How To Improve Your Aspergers Child's Self-Image

The diagnostic criteria for Aspergers can be intimidating to moms and dads with kids who are newly diagnosed. The traits attributed to children with Aspergers can set a negative tone because of the focus on “disabilities” rather than abilities. Thus, moms and dads should temper this information with a balanced perspective. The Aspergers youngster has much to offer in the form of gifts and talents. The attitude with which parents receive these “abilities” will directly influence their youngster's self-image.

Some mothers/fathers despair when they receive their youngster's diagnosis of Aspergers. Parents and the Aspie’s siblings may perceive the diagnosis as hopeless or something that induces shame. Their rationale may be driven by several factors:

• Conflicting pressures about proper childrearing from family, neighbors, or friends
• Conflicting pressures about proper intervention and support from doctors and other professionals
• Insensitive presentation by a physician who focuses on disabilities
• No access to literature or other educational materials that present a balanced perspective
• No opportunities for contact with families in similar situations who are actually enjoying their Aspergers youngster
• No previous exposure to people with differences who live well-adjusted, content lives
• Projected anxieties about the youngster's future lack of independence and failure in adult life
• Rumors and stereotypes about people with differences, including Aspergers

One article describes Aspergers as “a neurological malady that dooms many of its victims to a lonely life and dead-end jobs despite higher-than-average intelligence.” When parents believe such upsetting, unrealistic stereotypes, anxiety around the diagnosis will naturally increase within the entire family. These and other negative stereotypes should never be projected on the child or communicated directly in front of her. Otherwise, a self-fulfilling prophecy can easily manifest itself (i.e., the child may come to believe that he/she is truly destined to be friend-less and job-less).

If an Aspergers child hears grown-ups refer to her only in negative terms, she believes it and, eventually, she becomes it. Being a sensitive child (as Aspergers children tend to be), she may naturally internalize, replay, and agonize over her “Aspergers traits.”

Self-esteem is a powerful predictor of success. Not all Aspergers children have problems with social competence and self-esteem, but many do, and struggling daily with the challenges posed by having an Autism Spectrum Disorder can erode the enthusiasm and confidence that make learning fun. Knowing one's assets and liabilities, and feeling good about one's self can be an invaluable tool for negotiating the sometimes tumultuous path to achievement in school, success in the workplace, and acceptance at home and in the community at large.

Positive self-esteem is as important to success in school and on the job as the mastery of individual skills. And there's no question that doing something well helps a child feel better about himself, his accomplishments, and his potential to succeed in the future. Autism Spectrum Disorders, however, often pose formidable hurdles to positive self-esteem, and these in turn contribute to a hard-to-break cycle of self-doubt, frustration and failure.

Self-esteem can be described as how we think of ourselves and view ourselves in the context of our surroundings. Students in school have self-esteem shaped by how well they get along with peers and teachers. They are constantly making judgments about how "good" they are in comparison to their peers. Self-esteem is also shaped by how well children negotiate relationships with parents and siblings, and how successful they are in understanding and responding to many ever-changing interpersonal demands across many different settings. It is precisely in these areas that Aspergers children have the greatest difficulty, thus contributing to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

Threats to Self-Esteem in Aspergers Children—

While there is no menu of characteristics that captures the threats to self-esteem in Aspergers children, there are a number of traits frequently observed in Aspies that contribute to feelings of low self-worth. A few of the factors that seem to impact self-esteem in some Aspergers children in negative ways include the following:
  • assumes a posture of "learned helplessness" (i.e., they assume that because they struggled with something in the past, there is little they can do to change a negative outcome in the future, so they may stop trying and hope for the best)
  • believes that outcomes are controlled by external influences (e.g., luck, chance, fate) rather than as a result of their own internal efforts
  • has difficulty judging when it is his/her turn to participate in a conversation
  • has great difficulty knowing how he/she fits in to a peer group, which often results in 'hanging back' or being a passive (rather than active) participant in activities
  • has limited success "self-marketing" and getting noticed in positive ways within a peer group
  • has limited vocabulary or difficulty retrieving the right words for the situation
  • has trouble with topic selection and knowing when to stop a conversation
  • is a poor self-observer and has trouble sizing up and reflecting upon what is going right (and wrong) during social interactions 

  • is frequently (albeit not intentionally) the target of spoken and unspoken messages of disappointment and lowered expectation by parents and others
  • is less likely than peers to use gestures and demonstrations when sharing information 

  • is more likely to repeat rather than clarify when asked to expand upon an explanation
  • is repeatedly confronted with messages of low expectations for academic achievement by teachers and parents
  • is viewed as having diminished potential for success, even with services and support in school and at home 

  • is weak in verbal pragmatics (i.e., fitting the use of language to social situations, for example, not knowing when or how to laugh without offending the listener)
  • may have problems with visual spatial planning and self-regulation, resulting in difficulties judging how close to stand to someone during conversation, how to assume and maintain a relaxed posture, and when it might be appropriate to touch 

  • may misinterpret feelings and emotions of others and not realize when their behaviors are bothersome or annoying
  • not sure how to understand or explain personal strengths and weaknesses to others
  • perceives self as less popular and more frequently rejected or ignored by peers (sometimes resulting in further self-imposed isolation) 

  • seems to be overly egocentric and not interested in the responses of other speakers (when nothing could be further from the truth)
  • talks around a topic and provides less critical (and more extraneous) information in response to a question

How Parents Can Help—

How can a parent help to foster healthy self-esteem in an Aspergers youngster? These tips can make a big difference:

1. Be a positive role model. If you're excessively harsh on yourself, pessimistic, or unrealistic about your abilities and limitations, your Aspergers youngster may eventually mirror you. Nurture your own self-esteem, and your youngster will have a great role model.

2. Be spontaneous and affectionate. Your love will go a long way to boost your youngster's self-esteem. Give hugs and tell children you're proud of them. Pop a note in your youngster's lunchbox that reads, "I think you're terrific!" Give praise frequently and honestly, without overdoing it. Children can tell whether something comes from the heart.

3. Build your youngster's sense of connectiveness. Physical touch and loving words from moms and dads are the first step.

4. Build your youngster's sense of uniqueness. Kids need to feel that others think they have special qualities and talents. Find opportunities to point these out to him.

5. Create a safe, loving home environment. Children who don't feel safe at home will suffer immensely from low self-esteem. A youngster who is exposed to moms and dads who fight and argue repeatedly may become depressed and withdrawn.

6. Deal with failure. If the youngster fails, he should not feel a failure. Teach your youngster that failure is only a temporary setback on the road to success.

7. Encourage your youngster's curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Teach him to satisfy curiosity with learning and convey the joy of learning in everything you do.

8. Give him responsibilities in the family and allow his input into decisions that affect him.

9. Give positive, accurate feedback. Comments like "You always work yourself up into such a frenzy!" will make children feel like they have no control over their outbursts. A better statement is, "You were really mad at your brother. But I appreciate that you didn't yell at him or hit him." This acknowledges a youngster's feelings, rewards the choice made, and encourages the youngster to make the right choice again next time.

10. Help children become involved in constructive experiences. Activities that encourage cooperation rather than competition are especially helpful in fostering self-esteem. For example, mentoring programs in which an older youngster helps a younger one learn to read can do wonders for both children.

11. Identify and redirect your youngster's inaccurate beliefs. It's important for moms and dads to identify children' irrational beliefs about themselves, whether they're about perfection, attractiveness, ability, or anything else. Helping children set more accurate standards and be more realistic in evaluating themselves will help them have a healthy self-concept. Inaccurate perceptions of self can take root and become reality to children.

12. Let your youngster express himself in his own way. Show respect for his thoughts and feelings so he will learn to do the same.

13. Provide a broad range of experiences for your youngster so he will have more confidence in facing new experiences. At the same time maintain structure and order in your day-to-day life.

14. Provide many opportunities for him to practice new skills he learns. Teach him to cope with failure by analyzing it, setting reasonable standards, and not overreacting.

15. Provide opportunities for him to feel that he is a functional and important member of his family, school class, group of friends, sports team, church, neighborhood, and community.

16. Teach him good problem-solving and decision-making skills. Teach him to prioritize, think about consequences, and plan a course of action.

17. Teach your youngster good social and conversational skills by modeling, direct teaching, and guided practice. These skills will enable him to have positive interactions with others.

18. Teach your youngster to set minor and major goals. Be specific in your expectations and the standards and consequences for his behavior.

19. Tell him your family stories and talk about his ancestors, heritage, and nationality in a positive way.

20. Watch what you say. Children are very sensitive to moms and dads' words. Remember to praise your youngster not only for a job well done, but also for effort. But be truthful. For example, if your youngster doesn't make the soccer team, avoid saying something like, "Well, next time you'll work harder and make it." Instead, try "Well, you didn't make the team, but I'm really proud of the effort you put into it." Reward effort and completion instead of outcome.

Your Aspergers child will rely on you to provide a solid foundation of self-worth. Equipped with healthy self-esteem, she will be better prepared to enter into a life that will likely present many challenges.

Think of the areas in which your Aspie is naturally gifted:

• Does she have the quiet reverence to render amazing watercolors?
• Does she enjoy describing the exact alignment of the solar system's planets, identifying each by correct name, placement, and color?
• Does she assume the personality traits of a favorite cartoon character with uncanny accuracy, down to mimicking lines of dialogue?
• Does her comprehension of computer programs exceed that of many adults?

At every opportunity, reinforce to your Aspie how special she is to you. Tell her that you are delighted when she shares her astronomy charts with you. Highlight your youngster's talents when talking with family and friends. Prominently display her works of art. You will be surprised at the long-lasting impact these moments will have as you mold your child into young adulthood.

The Aspergers youngster instinctively wants to be good, to fit in, and to be just like other children. She will be best poised to do that if she feels safe and comfortable in knowing there is a place where she is unconditionally loved and understood.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns and Tantrums

4 comments:

Robert said...

Thank you. Today's newsletter meant a lot to me. As the parent of a recently diagnosed 10 year old, I was so busy thinking about him that I forgot to analyze and moderate my own perspective about myself.

Steve-Prospering With Aspergers said...

Thanks for a very comprehensive article. You listed so many positive ways that we can connect deeply with our children, yet also help them develop competence skills, which is so important in developing self-esteem.

leslieanne said...

This is a very helpful article. Thank you.

Looking for Blue Sky said...

I love my (10 year old) son, but not unconditionally. I cannot accept the way that he reacts with violence when things do not go his way :(

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the Aspergers child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually. Thus, the best treatment for Aspergers children and teens is, without a doubt, “social skills training.”

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Aspergers Children

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and the Asperger’s child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Aspergers Teens

Although Aspergers is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager with Aspergers are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the Aspergers teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Aspergers Children “Block-Out” Their Emotions

Parenting children with Aspergers and HFA can be a daunting task. In layman’s terms, Aspergers is a developmental disability that affects the way children develop and understand the world around them, and is directly linked to their senses and sensory processing. This means they often use certain behaviors to block out their emotions or response to pain.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children With Aspergers Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with Aspergers face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Living with an Aspergers Spouse/Partner

Research reveals that the divorce rate for people with Aspergers is around 80%. Why so high!? The answer may be found in how the symptoms of Aspergers affect intimate relationships. People with Aspergers often find it difficult to understand others and express themselves. They may seem to lose interest in people over time, appear aloof, and are often mistaken as self-centered, vain individuals.

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Online Parent Coaching for Parents of Asperger's Children

If you’re the parent of a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism, you know it can be a struggle from time to time. Your child may be experiencing: obsessive routines; problems coping in social situations; intense tantrums and meltdowns; over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells and sights; preoccupation with one subject of interest; and being overwhelmed by even the smallest of changes. The hardest part is you feel like you’ll never actually get to know your child and how he/she views the world.

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